Democracy, corruption, and the ethics of business lobbying

Amit Ron, Abraham A. Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Following the “systemic turn,” democratic theory has moved away from simplistic accounts of the “public interest” as something that can be discovered through the right procedure or the right context where self-interest is bracketed. Instead, it focuses on the ways in which the terms of social cooperation are co-negotiated according to different standards in different sites of social interaction. Against this background, we revisit the question of what ethical obligations businesses have when lobbying government. We argue that in the context of a complex and differentiated understanding of democracy, the two common standards that are used to guide ethical dealing with government—being “truthful” and acting in the “public interest”—are misguided. Instead, we claim that the standard that should guide businesses in lobbying is corruption avoidance. We understand corruption, however, in broader terms than suitcases full of cash, or quid pro quo arrangements. Instead, building on Mark Warren’s definition of corruption in democracy as “duplicitous exclusion,” we offer a typology of how lobbying practices can exclude people in a corrupting manner, pointing toward an ethical framework business actors can use to avoid contributing to the corruption of democratic norms and procedures. The ethics of lobbying according to this model will be mainly concerned with not undermining democracy’s second-order competence through practices of duplicitous exclusion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-56
Number of pages19
JournalInterest Groups and Advocacy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Business ethics
  • Corporate governance
  • Democracy
  • Democratic deliberations
  • Lobbying

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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